The Owl Service – Alan Garner

I bought this book on Amazon in a frenzy of excitement after reading some reviews raving about how fantastic it was. When I settled myself down comfortably to read The Owl Service, I thought I was in for a real treat, so maybe my expectations were a bit too high from the very beginning.

Supposedly a book to be enjoyed by both children and adults, the idea behind The Owl Service is wonderful. It’s set in a secluded cottage in a beautiful valley in Wales. This is the perfect setting for eerie and magical happenings and when there are mysterious scratching noises coming from the attic, the reader can’t help but feel a bit of a shiver down the spine.

The main characters are Alison, a spoilt teenager who owns the cottage, her step brother Roger and Gwyn, the son of the cook and cleaner who has been hired for the summer. It is clear that something strange is going on when Alison and Gwyn hear the scratching coming from the ceiling. Instead of finding rats though, they find the attic empty apart from the dusty old dinner service in the corner. The plates are decorated with a flowery pattern, which Alison soon recognises as owls.

From this moment on, strange things start to happen and Alison begins to act very oddly. Gwyn tries to understand what is going on, and when he overhears Huw ‘Halfbacon’, the mad, old gardener chanting to himself ‘she’s coming’, he has a sudden feeling that something terrible might be about to happen.

I found it difficult to get into this book and hard to relate to any of the characters. There is a lot of dialogue and it is not always immediately clear who is saying what. It is set in such a perfect location and has such a promising storyline which really could have done with more descriptive pieces to set the scene and continue the tension throughout the book. Although The Owl Service is for children, it still could have done with some more character depth. There are hints about Alison’s relationship with her mother, who we never see and Gwyn and his mother are constantly arguing but we never get much of a back story or much history of any of the characters.

It is a shame that I could not enjoy this book in the way that I had hoped and I’m not sure why there are so many positive reviews on Amazon. I know that I am no longer a child or teenager, but I vividly remember that I loved losing myself in a book at that age. I wanted to believe in the world the book created and feel as if I knew the characters. I wanted to step into the magic and go on adventures with the people I read about. The Owl Service, for me, brought back none of those fond memories.

Having said all that, I was impressed with the way Garner manages to discreetly slip in themes of class, racism, divorce and sexual confusion in teenagers. It is always the sort of thing that goes slightly over the heads of younger children, but can often be helpful to older children and teenagers to understand realities in the world.

If you want to read the Amazon reviews for yourself, click on the picture below.

5 thoughts on “The Owl Service – Alan Garner

  1. I reread The Owl Service a few years ago and, like you, I could say I was glad to have done so I couldn’t say I was bowled over by it. I couldn’t put my finger on it but, having read your blog, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you say. In the end I didn’t care enough about the characters to feel drawn into the novel.


    • Thank you very much for the comment. I was really sad when this book didn’t have the wow factor for me. After everything I had heard, I was expecting something very different. Maybe I should have just read it when I was younger…


  2. Oh, that’s too bad! I’ve come across tons of good reviews on this one too, and it’s high on my to-read list. I just read about him in Wikipedia and he apparently has always said he doesn’t write for children at all, but for himself. Philip Pullman and others rave about him, I think he was an important influence on the fantasy writers that came afterward.


    • Don’t be put off by my review! Obviously most people like The Owl Service, or it wouldn’t have so many positive reviews! I wish I could have enjoyed it in the same way. But whereas some people liked the way Garner ‘doesn’t patronise the reader with pages, or even paragraphs of scene-setting’ (from a review on Amazon), I think it was needed.

      If you do read the book, I would be very interested to hear you views!


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